Tomorrow, thanks to the baptism of a relative, my family are shipping off to another church for the day. As I was thinking I would miss my own church (and I will), I was reflecting on some of the good things about being somewhere else for one Sunday.
Before I get into those things, I want to add a big caveat here. I am not advocating skipping off from your own church for a jolly. There is little to be gained from simply hopping around different churches week by week. In fact, if you are skipping from one church to another with regularity not only is it no good, it will be to your eternal detriment. I have no interest here in affirming anybody seeking to avoid the accountability, oversight and biblical mandate to join one local church family.
This is not an article advocating moving around different churches because you feel they each meet your various felt needs. This is an article for those who belong to one local church, who love it and (rightly) meet with it regularly but who find themselves periodically in attendance at another fellowship. This may be because you want to worship somewhere whilst on holiday, you are invited to serve another church by preaching for them or – as in our case tomorrow – there is a special reason for you to be there such as a baptism of a family member.
Though we may want to be back home in our own church with our church family, here are some benefits (in no particular order) to those times we have occasion to be elsewhere.
It is very easy to get stuck in the rut of our own church traditions. Often, things that were once well thought out and practices adopted for carefully considered reasons morph into that stuff that we’ve just always done. Once culturally appropriate practices get set in stone and, forty or fifty years on, bear no relevance to the modern day culture to which we belong. The real problem is not that these things happen so much as how easy it is for us to simply acclimatise to the way things are and to press on with stuff without question because it’s how we’ve always done it.
One benefit of going somewhere else is that we are forced to assess our own practice. Inevitably, different contexts will do things differently. We will be faced with a raft of stuff that we don’t do, and a series of things we take for granted that the place we’re in doesn’t do, and we must ask why. Is it that they are biblical and we are not? Is it that our contexts demand different approaches? If not, might there be things that are worth adopting back in our own church?
Seeing how different churches do things gives us a fresh perspective on our own practice. We may be affirmed and encouraged that we have similar practice for similar reasons to other churches. We may be encouraged to change something we currently do to improve it. We might find there are new things we want to adopt. By going to other churches we gain a fresh perspective on how to do church and gain helpful insights into what we may take back to our own context.
If you are a minister, chances are you will be doing the lion’s share of teaching in your home church. Whilst it is good to sit under the teaching of others, and for the church to see you learning from others, usually they are going to sit under your teaching. Going to other churches grants an opportunity to us to learn from others.
Conferences often provide such opportunities. It is always great to sit under well-known speakers and learn from them. But it is also particularly good to sit under the teaching of less well-known names. For one, when we do this, we see that being well known does not necessarily make one the best teacher and being unknown does not render someone a poor teacher. But it also allows us to see how truth is applied in particular situations. Conferences offer well-known speakers teaching to no particular context; visiting local churches lets us hear not so well-known (yet often great) speakers teaching into specific contexts. We can be fed, rather than providing the food, and learn from guys applying truth into specific contexts.
We can encourage and be encouraged
It is great to be able to encourage ministries that are not in vogue nor the centre of attention. The very act of going to a church that is not regularly ‘up front’ and a bit off the beaten track will encourage those in the ministry. I am often encouraged when folk turn up because they have ‘heard of us’ or looked us up and found us. It gives us a sense we are not quite as invisible as it can sometimes feel in largely unknown ministries.
At the same time, just as we may encourage those in the ministry, we may well be encouraged. Not only can we feed on the preaching, it is encouraging to hear from members of the church about how the Lord is working. We can often fall into the trap of hearing (and giving) very stylised versions of what goes on week by week in our churches. We feel, as ministers, the need to maximise the good going on and emphasise the need while minimising the bad. Thankfully, most of our church members have no such qualms and tend to give more honest accounts of the way things are. It is, therefore, always encouraging when church members are brimming over with joy about what is going on in their church.
These sorts of stories can often get lost in our own ministries. People either don’t think to say such things to us or we get lost in the business of the weekly routine. It’s not that encouraging things aren’t happening, just that we may not always see them or we minimise them in our minds in the midst of all the issues we sense need handling. Going to another church where we don’t have our heads buried in such things, and where the church members will (hopefully) be honest with us about the way things are, presents great opportunity to be encouraged with what the Lord is doing elsewhere.